‘The stern task of living’: Dubliners,
Clerks, Money and Modernism
It is hard enough by giving lessons all day to keep body and soul together in Paris; and how you can expect to do that, and at the same time qualify as a doctor, passes my comprehension.
William Archer, letter to James Joyce, 25 November 1902 1
I am an English teacher here in a Berlitz School. I have been here for sixteen months during which I have achieved the delicate task of living and supporting two other trusting souls on a salary of £80 a year.
James Joyce, letter (from Trieste) to Grant Richards, 28 February 1906 2
My home was simply a middle-class affair ruined by spendthrift habits which I have inherited. My mother was slowly killed, I think, by my father's ill-treatment, by years of trouble, and by my cynical frankness of conduct. When I looked on her face as she lay in the coffin – a face grey and wasted with cancer – I understood that I was looking on the face of a victim, and I cursed the system which had made her a victim.
James Joyce, letter to Nora Barnacle, 29 August 1904 3
In the Dublinersstory ‘Two Gallants’, Lenehan presents an enigma: ‘No one knew how he achieved the stern task of living.’ 4 James Joyce himself knew enough, it seems, about the ‘stern’ or ‘delicate’ task of keeping body and soul together. By 1904, the year Joyce met Nora Barnacle, the rapid financial decline of John Joyce's family had led them from independent propertied income to the virtual poverty of 7 St Peter's Terrace, Dublin, where the cramped space was occupied